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article imageApp links users to nearest hot spot with no password for free

By Ken Hanly     Jan 26, 2019 in Internet
A Chinese app that connects users to WI-FI hotspots for free, is turning out to be one of the country's most popular apps. Tracking service App Annie claims WiFi Master Key was China's 5th largest app by activity by monthly users in 2018 and also in 2017.
WiFi Master Key
The aptly named WiFi Master Key was begun by the little-known startup LinkSure based in Shanghai. The Key connects people to the nearest wireless networks without any need for passwords. The app also recommends news and video based on the users past habits in order to encourage continued use of the app. LinkSure's WiFi Master Key also owns the domain name wifi.com
The free app is monetized through advertising on the traffic the app generates. The app claims 700 million monthly users in China plus another 100 million in the rest of the world. WeChat and Allpay in comparison each have about a billion monthly users around the world.
Founder Chen Danian was well known from the early days of the Internet in China as was his brother Chen Tiangaio once the largest operator of Chinese online games. However Chen resigned as CEO last November. The firm is now run by Wang Jingying one of a handful of female CEOs in the Chinese tech sector.
Financing
As well as its ad income, Linksure received $52 million from a Series A round. The parent Linksure was valued at $1 billion in 2015 just two years after the launch of the firm. LinkSure has not announced any further funding since and had maintained a relatively low profile.
The issue of sharing passwords
At first sight the idea of taking advantage of a stranger's wi-fi networks seems a bit immoral if not illegal. However, the situation is not quite that straightforward. After all anyone going into a place which has free wi-fi usually get a password from someone at the coffee house, bar, hospital or wherever that has the free wi-fi. Anyone could keep this password and share it with anyone else. The app simply stores the login password in the cloud when anyone logs in. It then just shares the password with anyone in the vicinity.
The app can thus bill itself as a Wi-FI sharing service and claim it is not involved in hacking to gain passwords that it stores. The website describing Wi-FI Master Key says "1. What is WiFi Master Key? WiFi Master Key is a free tools app developed by LinkSure to enable passwordless Internet access through shared WiFi hotspots. The app also provides additional features such as Security Check, Speed Test, Signal Detector, and WiFi Map. As of June 2016, the app has 900 million users, 520 million monthly active users, 400 million hotspots making it the world's largest WiFi sharing app.2. What are Blue Key Hotspots? All shared WiFi hotspots with the community are listed with Blue Key, and can be connected for free. Just tap on Blue Key to connect WiFi. WiFi Master Key is a WiFi sharing app for users to share and connect to WiFi hotspots. The app does not show/help you find out the passwords for WiFi hotspots. It helps you connect to the shared WiFi hotspots shared by hotspot owners. To protect the privacy and security of the hotspot owners, shared passwords are encrypted, and are not shown. "
The site also makes it clear it is not involved in hacking: "Please note that WiFi Master Key is NOT a hacking tool. Hacking is illegal. "
Authorities still concerned over privacy issues
A year ago in April, the Chinese State television broadcaster ran a 25 minute feature that claimed WiFi MasterKey was "stealing passwords" It was followed by a government crackdown by the state cybersecurity watchdog on all Wi-Fi crowdsourcing services with poor security practices. LinkSure rebuked the state report noting that it always asked for user consent before using their data. However, most people do not carefully read the long complicated legal material accompanying the use of an app.
One problem is that sometimes users make their house Wi-Fi publicly available without realizing as for example they give their password to a guest who has the app. Does then Master Key store the password and make it available to others? WiFI Master Key has not responded to questions about this.
However, Wi-Fi Master Key is still alive and being downloaded even in English as seen in the appended video.
More about WiFi Mastter Key, Link Sure, wifi hot spots
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